Tampere-based TreLab Ltd is one of those technology companies that give you a daily glimpse of where the world is heading. The wireless, smart measurement system developed by TreLab shows how machines are really running or how conditions are changing in buildings, for example.
A simple example can be found very near when Mika Parikka, CEO of TreLab Ltd, wants to tell visitors about the measurement system developed by the company. Just attach the TreLab Smart Tag to the bottom of the meeting room table, switch on the gateway, get the system running and start collecting data: the people meeting at the table move enough for the system to monitor when the meeting room is occupied.
After just a few days, you can see how well the booking calendar of the room and its actual use correspond to each other – and you could just as easily monitor a machine running in a factory, an entire production line or the conditions in a building, such as the temperature or air humidity.
“We have a platform on which a wide variety of solutions can be built without heavy investment, exactly according to the customer’s needs,” Parikka says.
TreLab’s founders originally developed the Smart Tag for the field of care. However, the plans had to be changed when it started to seem that the social welfare and health care reform would postpone any investments in the new technology offered by TreLab too far into the future. The new direction was quite smoothly found in industrial applications.
“As TreLab had already learned to monitor the actions of people, which usually aren’t straightforward at all, monitoring machinery and equipment was easy compared to that,” Parikka says.
The number of the various solutions and the volumes of data collected are now growing rapidly. TreLab has concentrated on a service model, and building it increasingly requires partnerships in which you must be able to manage the data collected from various sources and combine it with other data sources.
“We have implemented more than 30 solutions now. We started from the industry and have expanded into other areas. In Tampere’s Smart City project, for example, we are involved in the city’s pilot environment in which our solution is used to monitor the position and swaying of lighting columns.”
TreLab started commercialising its technology in the industry in 2014, and now is the time to start looking at international markets as well. According to Parikka, the company is in the process of making its first delivery to be implemented in several European countries.
The meeting room example described above might not necessarily be critical for the operation of many companies, but let us consider production plant machinery instead. The sales department could sell and the customer would buy, but the plant’s information system says that the machinery is running at full capacity. In TreLab’s experience, however, a visit to the production facilities surprisingly often reveals that the machine is not actually running.
“We help companies collect data about how the machine really works. When companies adapt their practices to the actual situation and stop looking at averages, they can increase their production efficiency by 10–20 per cent,” Parikka says.
In Parikka’s opinion, one of the best things about his job is getting to see how the customers learn to understand their own operations from a new perspective. Of course, learning more can sometimes also be painful, when you have to question familiar practices.
“For example, machine and equipment manufacturers could increase the proportion of services in their offering, but such reforms seem to take place very slowly. On the other hand, there are many small and medium-sized enterprises that are prepared to think about what they do in completely new ways. International competition increases the willingness to develop.”
TreLab itself provides its customers with information about the operation of their equipment for a monthly fee. In some fields, customers would be better prepared to pay for the equipment and keep the data collected within the factory walls. In the world of the Internet of Things, however, the trend points in the other direction, sharing information.
“For example, data collected from a production plant machine benefits everyone: the companies operating, servicing and manufacturing the machine,” Parikka says.
The members of TreLab’s founding team got used to working with advanced things changing the world during their time at Nokia, and their insights are now crystallised in TreLab’s operations. Parikka thinks that this makes the company a particularly interesting place to work, since TreLab gives you a chance to see the direction in which the world is heading.
“According to McKinsey’s report, the benefits of IoT in the industrial sector alone are thought to total more than one trillion dollars in the next 10 years. However, this requires companies to question their current operations and have the courage to make changes. TreLab’s customers are at the forefront, and it feels great to be involved in building new operating models with pioneers,” Parikka concludes.